Present Day. Oman.
“So I read the first couple of chapters,” Big Gay Cousin is saying in Leicestershire, through Skype.
“Okay, cool,” I say. “And?”
“Well, it’s not very sparkly. I think there needs to be more of you in there. It’s not very funny either.”
“Right-oh. Well, I am dealing with the lingering death of my father. It was kind of hard to find much comedy material in that.”
“I think you need to stop calling out your father as well, really. He had a lot of really good qualities and I don’t think it’s psychologically healthy. For you, I mean.”
“I wasn’t planning to make him part of the narrative at all, actually,” I say, a tad defensively. “In fact, the novel is characterised by his absence.”
“You should make him the subject of your next book,” BGC offers. “What a life he had! What a character! Some of my best memories growing up were of driving round with him in his Porsche. Fab times!”
We both pause to take stock and have a quick swig of our boozes.
“What’s that you’re drinking?” BGC asks. I hold up the bottle for his inspection.
“It’s called DAB beer,” I tell him. “It’s specially brewed for German alcoholics with diabetes.”
Already he is hooting with laughter.
“It’s like the lowest carb and calorie beer in the world. I thought San Mig Light was the shit but I can fit in about one or two extra beers a session with DAB, calorie-wise.”
“Diabetic beer? Cousin, you’re a tonic!”
“There’s even a warning on the label to consult your doctor before drinking it. Only it’s in German.”
He raises his glass of white wine and we cheers each other through the screen.
“Did I tell you I had my liver checked, by the way?” asks BGC. “Turns out it’s gone fatty. That’s what you’ve got, isn’t it?”
“Err- yeah. I got diagnosed when I started this job. But actually I read a fascinating article in the Daily Mail this week that says you only need to stop drinking for one night a week. That’s literally all your liver needs to heal itself.”
“Well, good luck with that!” my cousin laughs. “I can’t sleep if I’m sober.”
“God, I know! I had to take two valium to drop off in the end. Blue ones.”
We both laugh and blame our fathers for our multiple habits, something which is traditionally done at this stage to absolve ourselves.
“Well,” BGC continues, “The woman who checked my liver said- don’t worry. Seventy per cent of Leicestershire has a fatty liver these days.”
“Yep. She said well, we all like a glass or two after work, don’t we. I said – how DARE you? I don’t drink!”
“Hang on a sec. I need to get one of my diabetic pils,” I say.
“What?” BGC asks, momentarily horrified. “You’re on pills for diabetes?”
“No, pils as in pilsner. Nothing to worry about.”
When I return, I end up dribbling on further about the bloody book I’m too tired and depressed to write.
“I’m having a few difficulties with the narrative, to be honest,” I say. “Things took a real turn to the dark side after dad died- as you remember. It all got a bit Trainspottery.”
“To be honest, there’s a few of the people I work with who read the blog and I’m not sure I want to put out there some of the things that actually happened. Not while I’m still working there. Maybe I should just resign.”
“Do what you need to do, cuz.”
“I’m thinking about Laos. Cheap. Nice people. Could give me the time and space to really get stuck in.”
“Well, why not. I will say this, though: there was something very dark about all that business. Demonic, even,” BGC says. “That was the only time I was ever genuinely angry with you. You don’t invite stuff like that into your life. Not unless you want real trouble.”